Re: Good Meme, Bad Meme

Ton Maas (
Tue, 3 Mar 1998 14:28:38 +0100

Message-Id: <v03102802b121b2670f88@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 14:28:38 +0100
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: Good Meme, Bad Meme

>> >Had some trouble here. Would not the quality of a meme primarily lie in
>> >its ability to establish and move freely among meme-carrying structures?
>> >This is more a question of effectiveness in the world of the living than
>> >GOODNESS or BADNESS...ooooo, how I despise such words. Good, bad don't
>> >make much sense to me here. Either it is likely to succeed in the
>> >evolutionary selection dance or it is not. No system "needs" a meme nor
>> >is it likely to discern what is GOOD for it. If it is BAD the meme is
>> >rejected?
>> I'm afraid that nature is tautological rather than ethical. Those things
>> that survive longer, do indeed survive longer than things which do not
>> survive as long. What's "good" (or beneficial) to the larger system, may be
>> quite detrimental for individuals or species. Our own survival as mankind
>> maybe of relative importance to us, but it is trivial to nature as a whole.
>Oh come on, Ton. Natural evolution has nothing to do with tautologies,
>and it's only those people who misunderstand evolution who think so.
>You also seem to be implying that everything evolves for the sake of 'a
>larger system' which is patently untrue. Our own survival is irrelevent,
>and so is the survival of species or nature as a whole. The only relevent
>thing in evolution is the gene, and whether that gene has some kind
>of phenotypic effect which increases its chances of being duplicated.
>The same thing applies in Memetics - the only thing of importance is
>the meme, and whether its phenotypic effect increases its chances of
>being duplicated. If it does it could perhaps be called 'good', but
>really the words 'good' and 'bad' are meaningless here.

Peter, I don't see how you reach your conclusion, since I was more or less
arguing the same. My position is that "good" and "bad" don't apply, except
maybe from the perspective of those interested (individuals and maybe
groups of individuals). They are after all subjective categories and
without subjects they are non-existent. Although I understand why Dawkins
cs. claim that evolution makes more sense if we treat genes as if they were
agents with a program, it remains fallacious to take this all too
literally. That is not the issue at hand, however. I took my remark about
nature being tautological from Bateson, who wrote:

"My opninion is that Creatura, the world of mental process [=life,
according to his definition], is both tautological and ecological. I mean
that it is a slowly self-healing tautology. Left to itself, any large piece
of Creatura will tend to settle toward tautology, that is, toward _internal
consistency_ of ideas and processes. But every now and then, the
consistency gets torn; the tautology breaks up like the surface of a pond
when a stone is thrown into it. Then the tautology slowly but immediately
starts to heal. And the healing may be ruthless. Whole species may be
exterminated in the process." (Mind & Nature, 1979, p.206)


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